Create a list of assumptions and identify which are the riskiest


Kickoff Discovery

Suggested Time

30-60 min


Core team, stakeholders (optional)

Why do it?

We do this because if we do not identify and address our implicit assumptions, we may make uninformed decisions about the project or product’s direction. The output of this exercise can be used to generate user research questions.

When to do it?

We try to do this early in the project process in advance of any user research—often in the Kickoff itself.

What supplies are needed?

  • Whiteboard or digital version like Miro
  • Small sticky notes
  • Sharpies / markers
  • Painter’s tape (for making a 2x2)

How to Use this Method

Remote Tip: For distributed teams, use Miro or a similar “digital whiteboard” and adapt the in-person aspects to the digital world, such as drawing and using sticky notes. For example: draw a digital 2x2 matrix rather than using a real whiteboard.

Sample Agenda & Prompts

  1. Define “assumption” for the team and explain why the team is doing this workshop

“Assumptions are things that we believe to be true BUT which are not based on facts or evidence. Capturing them now will help us determine which questions we need to answer with research.”

  1. Ask the team to generate assumptions for 3-5 minutes

    Tip: If the group is large (e.g. if this is during a Kickoff), err on the side of giving less time; otherwise, you’ll end up with an enormous number of sticky notes that will take a long time to sift through.

  2. Ask the team to make 2 equal piles of sticky notes: one with the most important assumptions, one with the least important

  3. Have each person discard the pile of the least important assumptions. If using real sticky notes, rip them up – how cathartic!

  4. Make a vertical line on the whiteboard marked “Higher Risk” at the top and “Lower Risk” at the bottom. If in person, use the painter’s tape or dry erase markers.

    Tip: “Risk” is meant to indicate the negative impact to the project that an assumption could have if it turns out to be wrong.

  5. As a group, share out and stack rank each assumption along the line, with no 2 sticky notes occupying the same vertical space.

    Tip: If duplicate ideas surface, simply stack them on top of one another or discard the extras.

  6. Once that is complete make a horizontal line on the whiteboard, marked “Know A Lot” on the left and “Know Little” on the right.

  7. Spread out each assumption horizontally along the new axis, being sure not to move anything vertically since riskiness was addressed earlier.

  8. At the end of the exercise, you’ll have a strong idea of which assumptions (top right quadrant) you’ll need to take action on, and—if time allows—can outline specifically what actions to take and who will own them

    Tip: If you don’t have time to address all quadrants, that’s okay; begin above the horizontal axis so that you’ll be sure to address the riskiest assumptions first

  9. Finally, memorialize the 2x2 in some way, such as a photo, screenshot, or saved to a shared workspace.

Success/Expected Outcomes

Success happens when you have a fully arranged 2x2 grid that maps out the riskiest assumptions that must be addressed with research

Facilitator Notes & Tips

This exercise could go long if there are many assumptions or you’re having trouble ranking each assumption. Your job is to keep discussions brief and remind the team that (a) there is no “right” answer and (b) the rankings are relative—the research we do will help us uncover anything we might have missed. Do your best to keep momentum moving forward.

Real World Examples

Image of a two by two chart plotting assumptions by likelihood to kill business and amount of evidence